for National Geographic News
A lack of toilets is severely jeopardizing the health of 2.6 billion people in the developing world who are forced to discard their excrement in bags, buckets, fields, and ditches, according to a new study.
"The lack of a safe, private, and convenient toilet is a daily source of indignity and undermines health, education, and income generation," according to Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty, and the Global Water Crisis, a report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Much of Europe and North America built sanitation systems in the 1800s to keep humans and their drinking water away from pathogen-bearing fecal matter that can transmit cholera, diarrhea, typhoid, and parasites.
But nearly every other person in the developing world today lacks access to improved sanitation, and 1.1 billion people—one-sixth of the world's population—get their water from sources contaminated by human and animal feces, the report says.
The costs of the global "sanitation deficit" are severe.
The UN study says 1.8 million children die annually from diarrhea that could have been prevented simply by having a clean place to go to the bathroom.
The study also reports that roughly half of all people in developing countries have an illness related to sanitation and water quality. (Related: "UN Highlights World Water Crisis" [June 5, 2003].)
The report follows up on the UN's Millennium Development Goals, which include a pledge to bring sanitation to 120 million additional people every year between now and 2015.
Raising the Issue
UN officials hope that the report will raise the profile of an issue that often is buried for political and cultural reasons.
The report comes on the eve of "World Toilet Day"—November 19—which was designated by several toilet organizations in 2001 to increase awareness of sanitation issues.
"We hope this report puts the issue on the international agenda," said Marisol Sanjines, a UNDP outreach advisor.
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